Whether it’s unfinished and you use it for storage or it’s finished and you use as a living space, a basement is an invaluable part of your home. Despite all the benefits that it offers, there’s one flaw, and that flaw is more than just a nuisance – it can be a serious hazard. What is it? Mold!
Basements are notorious for being damp. As the lowest level of your house, they sit underneath or just above the surface of the ground. Due to the fact the ground is constantly shifting, the cement walls and floors that a basement is made of is prone to developing cracks, and moisture from the ground can seep in through those cracks. If your home’s rainwater runoff isn’t functioning properly or was poorly installed, there’s a change that the space can flood, too. Add to these issues the fact that basements are usually darker than other parts of your home – even if you have large egress windows installed - and it may house water-bearing or moisture-producing appliances, like water heaters or boilers, a basement is prone to dampness. As such, they’re also the ideal breeding ground for mold growth.
What is mold? Why are basements so prone to mold growth? What are the dangers that are associated with indoor mold? Are their air purifiers that you can use to combat basement mold? To find the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading. With the information presented below, you’ll be able to improve the air quality, enhance the scent, and protect the safety of your entire house, and most importantly, the health of yourself and your family.
Molds are naturally-occurring organisms that can be found virtually anywhere on the planet. They are a part of the fungi kingdom, and there are numerous species – in fact, there are so many species of mold that nobody actually knows how many there are. Outdoors, molds are a vital part of the ecosystem, as they consume dead and decaying organic matter, such as plants, trees, leaves, and even animals. As they break that organic matter down, they put the nutrients back into the ground. In other words, molds can be thought of as nature’s recycler.
While it’s beneficial outside, when mold grows inside is when it can become problematic. Mold reproduces via spores. It releases microscopic spores into the air, and those spores travel on air currents. They can make their way into your house via open windows and doors, cracks in building materials – like cracks in your basement walls and floor – and can even hitch a ride on pets, on your shoes, on your clothing, and on anything else that you take outside and bring back in. While mold spores are constantly circulating around your home’s indoor air, they only pose a problem if the requirements the fungus needs to thrive is present. Those requirements include:
As long as those conditions are met, when those microscopic mold spores in the air land on surfaces, they’ll begin to reproduce and form into cluster, and those clusters will produce more spores, release those spores, and the process will continue; hence why mold grows so rapidly. Given the fact that basements usually offer all of the above-mentioned elements – and that they tend to be damper than other parts of your house – it’s no wonder why mold growth is common in the lowest part of a house.
Since mold is actually beneficial in nature, you’re probably wondering why it’s hazardous when it grows indoors. There are two reasons that indoor mold growth can be dangerous. Firstly, as they feed on the surfaces they grow on, the fungus can weaken the structural integrity of that surface; for instance, if it grows on sheetrock or wood, in time, it can weaken the integrity of those elements, rendering them unstable, and in the basement, that means that the entire structural integrity of your home, as it’s the foundation that your entire house sits on. Secondly, indoor mold growth is dangerous because it can pose health risks. The microscopic spores that mold releases are considered pollutants and allergens. As such, individuals who suffer from allergies can experience increased symptoms if they’re exposed to even minimal concentrations of mold spores indoors. The same is true for individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic health conditions, like asthma or COPD. Older adults, young children and babies, and anyone who has a weakened immune system is also susceptible to experiencing adverse health effects when they are exposed to indoor mold growth. With that said, however, even otherwise healthy people – those who have strong immune systems, don’t have chronic respiratory symptoms, or don’t suffer from allergies – can also experience adverse health effects when they are exposed to concentrated levels of mold spores.
The symptoms that are associated with mold exposure include:
So, how can you tell if mold is growing in your basement? Well, the most obvious sign is that musty odor that is so commonly associated with basements. Believe it or not, while it may seem normal because it occurs in so many basements, that musty odor actually isn’t normal. It’s a sign of mold growth, and it is so common in basements because these spaces are so prone to mold. The smell occurs as a result of the spores that the fungus releases. The spores themselves emit gaseous matter, and that gas smells like must. Another common sign of basement mold growth is actually seeing it. If you notice spots of green, white, brown, yellow, pink, or black growing on the walls, ceiling, floor, furniture, or anything that you have stored in your basement, that’s a telltale sign that you have a mold problem.
Given the dangers that are associated with mold growth in your basement, as soon as you detect it, you want to correct it. Firstly, in order to fully eradicate mold, existing growth needs to be removed. If the problem is minor, you may be able to address it yourself; however, if it’s moderate or severe – or even if it’s mild and you just don’t feel confident doing it yourself – you should contact a mold remediation company to handle the job for you.
Once the existing mold growth is removed, you should then make an effort to prevent future growth. The most important and effective way to prevent future mold growth is eliminating all sources of moisture. If pipes or your hot water heater are leaking, make sure that they’re fixed. If there are cracks in the floors or walls, make sure that they are corrected. If the moisture is caused by condensation as a result of high humidity levels and poor ventilation, make sure that you take efforts to reduce the humidity and improve the ventilation in the space.
An air purifier is one of the trustiest tools in the fight against basement mold. That’s because these appliances are specifically designed to eliminate indoor air pollutants, which is exactly what mold spores are. As such, an air purifier can capture the microscopic mold spores that are floating through the air in your basement, which will help to prevent future mold growth, and will make the space smell a whole lot fresher.
There are so many air purifiers on the market. How do you know which one to choose? Below, you’ll find an overview of the different types of air purifiers and which one will work best to rid your basement of mold growth and improve the freshness of the space.
Short for High-Efficiency Particulate Air, HEPA air purifiers are made to trap airborne particles that measure 0.3 microns in size. They feature pleated filters that are made of fibrous materials, and fans. The fans draw in air, and as it does, the particles pass through the filter, and anything that measures 0.3 microns in size will be trapped within or on the surface of the filter. While HEPA filters are effective and can certainly improve the freshness and can remove several pollutants in the air, they generally aren’t considered effective at combatting mold. That’s due to the fact that microscopic mold spores are usually smaller than the 0.3 microns; the smallest size particulate matter that HEPA filters are designed to pick up. While they may be able to trap some mold spores, but they can’t trap them all. Furthermore, there is a chance that they could actually put mold back into the air. Why? Because as they become full or if they become damp, they can push mold spores back out into the environment, along with bacteria.
If you are interested in using a HEPA filter air purifier, understand that it may not yield the results that you are looking for. Furthermore, you want to be sure that you change the filter on a regular basis, otherwise it could be more problematic than beneficial.
These air purifiers take HEPA filtration up a notch by adding in ultraviolet (UV) light technology. UV light is powerful and it can effectively kill toxic elements, including bacterial, viruses, and even some mold spores. There is a downside, however, and that’s the fact that UV technology can potentially generate ozone, a toxic pollutant that can pose serious health risks. As such, while a HEPA air purifier with UV light may be able to eliminate mold spores, it could fill your basement air with ozone; in other words, you could end up trading one issue for another.
Air purifiers that are outfitted with carbon filters are designed to eliminate gases, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. They do this via activated carbon and a process known as adsorption, not to be confused with absorption. The primary difference is that with the former, airborne pollutants stick to the surface of the carbon, whereas with the latter, pollutants are absorbed within the structure, like a sponge. The activation process increases the surface area of the carbon, which is what allows gases to stick to the filter. The problem with activated carbon air purifiers is that as the gaseous pollutants fill up the adsorption sites on the carbon, the filter becomes saturated, and thus, it is no longer capable of trapping pollutants. Additionally, there is also a chance that the VOCs that the filter traps could possibly off-gas, releasing them back into the air. Furthermore, activated carbon air filters can only remove gaseous matter from the air; they cannot remove particulate matter, such as dust mites, pollen, dander – and mold. That being said, activated carbon air purifiers are not suitable for removing mold spores and the odors that are associated with those spores from your basement; however, if there are odors in your basement that are caused by volatile organic compounds, this type of air purifier might be an effective solution.
Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) is one of the most advanced air purification technologies. It’s an innovative way to clean indoor air. That’s because unlike other types of air purifier technologies, which trap airborne pollutants, such as mold spores o VOCs on or within the filter, with PECO filtration, the pollutants are destroyed. This destruction is caused by a catalytic reaction. In damp basements, where mold growth is very common, there is an increased risk of mold actually growing on or within the filters of other types of air purifiers. Because PECO technology not only collects, but destroys airborne mold spores, this type of air purifier can effectively help to combat mold growth. Furthermore, PECO filtration can also destroy the airborne gases that are produced by mold spores, thus removing the odors that are associated with the fungus, too. In other words, with a PECO air purifier, you can not only eliminate mold spores from the air and prevent future mold growth, but you can also eradicate unpleasant odors, thereby improving the smell of your basement.
As discussed, mold growth is common in basements, as they’ tend to be damp, and mold thrives in moisture. Mold isn’t the only pollutant that can negatively impact basement air quality, however; there are several other contaminants that can reduce the air quality in a basement. Examples include:
Given all of the above-mentioned pollutants that tend to accumulate in basement air, it’s easy to see why health-risks and structural damage can be associated with the stagnant, contaminated air. As such, you want to make sure that your basement air is as clean as possible. How can you do that? – There are actually several strategies that you can try that, when used in combination, can help to improve air quality, reduce the health risks, and eliminate the odors that are often present in basement air.
An air purifier can definitely help to improve your basement’s air. An air purifier that features PECO technology is your best bet, as it destroys both airborne particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), thus successfully improving your basement’s air quality, as well as the scent of the space.
Another effective way to improve your basement’s air is by improving the ventilation of the space. Whenever possible, open the windows to allow fresh air to flow in and stagnant, polluted air to flow out. A dehumidifier can also help to improve your basement air, as high moisture levels are a common source of pollutants that tend to accumulate in basements; mold spores, dust, dander, etc.
In addition to the above-mentioned strategies, having a professional inspect your basement – and the rest of your home – for mold growth is also recommended. Sometimes, mold can go undetected, but just because you can’t see it or smell it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – especially because basements are susceptible to poor air quality. A reputable professional will be perform advanced testing to check for the presence of airborne mold spores.
If you’re looking for a reliable mold inspection company, contact MI&T. As one of the largest and most trusted mold testing and inspection companies in the country, our technicians use the most advanced techniques and cutting-edge tools to check for the presence of mold growth. If it’s determined that mold is a problem, they’ll make viable recommendations that you can use to eliminate the problem.